by Stuart Coleman / 07-05-2006
For a long time, environmentalists in America have been viewed as little more than
prophets crying out in the wilderness. Few heeded their apocalyptic warnings about
environmental degradation, species extinction and global warming. That is, until recently.
With the announcement that President George W. Bush had declared the Northwestern
Hawaiian Islands (NWHI) a national monument, the release of Al Gore’s An
Inconvenient Truth and other developments, the tide may finally be turning. However,
ocean conservationist David Helvarg hopes the message to save our seas will be heard
before it’s too late.
Director of the Blue Frontier Campaign and author of The Blue Frontier: Dispatches
From America’s Ocean Wilderness, Helvarg was in town earlier this month to promote
his new book 50 Ways to Save Our Oceans. A guest of the Hawaiian advocacy group
KAHEA-The Hawaiian Environmental Alliance, Helvarg arrived on the same day that
unlikely conservationist Bush made the surprising move to protect the NWHI.
With his prematurely gray hair and youthful blue-green eyes, Helvarg appeared both
exhausted and exhilarated during a recent meeting with Honolulu Weekly. Tired from
continually trying to convince leaders to support conservation, the Blue Frontier director
([www.bluefront.org]) was clearly excited about the news of the NWHI and grateful
towards the environmental groups that helped make it happen.
“Bush said he watched Cousteau’s documentary on the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands,
and that’s what inspired him [to make it a national monument]. But when asked if he was
going to see Al Gore’s film, he said, “No, I’m not going to watch that movie.”“This is
very much parallel to the creation of our national parks system because it’s really our first
great wilderness park in the ocean that will be fully protected,” Helvarg says.
The ocean activist believes that Bush’s recent declaration was the result of a marine
grassroots movement that he calls the “seaweed rebellion.” And although environmental
activists can claim the monument designation a victory, it is only one battle in a much
larger war. Here in Hawai‘i and across the world, oceans are losing against the forces of
coastal sprawl, industrial overfishing, pollution and wetland destruction.
Under Bush’s watch, the government has rolled back environmental protections and
given free reign to big business and the military. In the guise of “wise use” policy,
forests, rivers and oceans have been handed over to the lumber, agribusiness and fishing
But does the president’s decision to preserve the NWHI mean that his administration has
now joined the fight for ocean conservation? “George Bush may be recorded as the worst